This is embarrassing. Thank God I didn’t have anything to eat yet all day. If I made a pit stop on that taco place along the way, the ground beef and the veggies and the chili sauce would make the vomit smell a lot worse. Liquid puke. Laced with whiskey and regret. Not the first time I threw up an all liquid diet.
I’m still figuring out how I got here, how I got included in the lineup. I’m sandwiched between a band I’ve danced to and an acoustic star that I’ve
stolen borrowed a few melodies from. My only sense of relief in the moments between the initial gag reflex and the actual vomiting is that they, and the others hitting the stage, aren’t here to watch this. That would be too embarrassing.
“Hi, are you alright?” someone asks me from behind. Great. I have a spectator.
“Uhm…yeah…just hanging with my friend Humpty Dumpty here.” She’s stunning. I feel nauseous.
“Sorry, stupid joke. I make them when I’m nervous.”
“You need a water or something?” she asks as she hands me a bottled water.
“I could use some tacos.” Oh God that sounded pervy. I just grab the water and pretend it’s food. Last thing I need are more liquids inside me. That’s not golden in color and comes in a flask. I take a sip and discretely gargle. “Nevermind, thank you. I’m assuming this is mine now? Unless you still want to drink from a water bottle that’s got traces of vomit in it. Shit, look at me making a fool out of myself. I’m sorry. I’m Ryan.”
“Christina,” she says as she lifts the name tag she has on. “It’s yours. Are you alright?”
“I don’t know yet. But I will be once the night is over. What do I owe you for the water?”
“A drink from whatever’s in your flask will do.” And here I thought I was being discrete in the afternoon alcohol consumption.
“What makes you think I have alcohol on me?”
“Aside from the smell from that? I saw you earlier. I couldn’t count the number of times you were taking sips of it.”
“Why were you counting, if I may ask?”
“I…wanted to know if you’d still have a bit left for me.”
I kneel down beside my guitar hardcase that I strategically dropped away from where the vomit would land. I reach for the lock, open it, and flip the top over.
“Nice guitar,” Christina says.
“Thanks, she’s my baby,” I say as I slide my hand into the crevice between the guitar and the case. “Here you go. Drink it in good health.”
She takes a sip. And another. And another. And another. And then one huge swig til it’s empty. That was an unfair tradeoff. That bourbon is more expensive than the water. “Sorry, I had a bad day,” she confesses. “I can buy you more water if you need to wash the vomit in your mouth away.”
“It’s alright. I’ve got the whole bottle in the car. What’s wrong?”
“Can we move over there first? The smell is getting to me.”
“Shit, of course.” We walk towards a lit area outside the venue. Lots of people here. We’d get lost in the shuffle. I’ve still got a couple of hours til I hit the stage. “So…this bad day of yours…?”
“Where’s your car parked?”
“Excuse me?” I’d be lying if I didn’t think that she wants to make out with me. But…
“The whole bottle. You meant more alcohol, right?”
“Yeah, that’s what I meant.”
“Can we go?”
“Sure. It’s just around the corner.”
This sudden turn of events is making me forget why I feel sick to my stomach. Why I’ve been feeling that debilitating parasitic bite of misery all week. For the first time since I got here, I could actually feel like myself again.
We get to the car that’s parked on a street that leads nowhere and she asks my why I’ve been drinking this early in the night. I don’t know what, or how, to tell her. My mind rushes to the perpetual need to lie and make up some story that’s less pathetic than my crippling self-doubt and issues with general worthlessness. I want to say ‘oh, ya know. Rock and roll,’ but that’s even more pathetic. Not to mention clichéd. “I had a bad day, too. Bad week, actually.”
“How come?” she asks.
“I asked you about your bad day first, remember?”
“But you’ve had a bad week. Chronologically, it makes sense that you go first.” Well, she’s a smart one. Terrifyingly beautiful and smart. I feel nauseous again. She continues “…you don’t have to say anything. We can just empty the bottle…”
“…you’re gonna have to empty it. I’m singing later. I can’t sing and play my guitar with that much alcohol in me.”
“You’re one of the performers?”
“The guitar case didn’t give that away?”
“Haha I thought it was just to impress girls!” Her laugh is making me more nauseous. And even more intoxicated. I can’t feel this…good…right now. “Where’s your ID tag?”
“You lost it?!”
“I must’ve taken it off when I was embarrassing myself in front of you. Damn it.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure we can work something out with the bouncers!”
“Better bring the bottle for them, then.”
Whatever I was feeling all week is gone now. This can’t happen. I need the misery so I can leave it on the stage. That’s how I do things. That’s my process. She’s ruining it.
“So…your bad week?” she asks again.
“You’re not gonna let up, are you?”
“Nope.” She seems so self-assured. Determined. A direct contradiction to the way she’s binging on my bottle of bourbon. Like she’s drowning her bad day with it instead of facing it head on. Then again, everyone’s got bad days. Everyone’s permitted to drown them with whatever they can grab their hands on, whatever they can use that works for them. I grab the bottle and take a gulp. More than I should, but I need this. Whatever works.
“Long story short? I don’t think I belong here. I’ll be stepping on same the stage as all these talented people and it’s killing me. I feel like a fraud, you know? Like who the fuck am I to be up there? And I’ve been hearing all these things from people saying that I stole a spot on the lineup from this guy or that girl or this band. That I shouldn’t be there. And they’re right. I shouldn’t be on that stage.” How am I confessing all these to a stranger? Oh yeah. Alcohol. I pass the bottle to her. “Your turn, Mademoiselle Christina.”
“Same shit. I’m one of the artists…my paintings are exhibited in the museum. Same shit. Same shit. I knew better than to read what’s being said in the local art blogs, but I couldn’t help it! I was looking at my paintings earlier and I just wanted to toss it out the window!”
“Which one is yours? I want to see it.”
“I’m serious. Maybe I’d like it. Love it, even. Maybe I won’t. I still want to see it.”
“No, okay? Those are not who I currently am now. I made those when I was in a much better place.”
“Same goes for the songs I’m gonna sing, but I’m still gonna sing them anyway.”
“It’s not the same!”
“How is it not the same? It’s art! We express what we feel for the world to see or hear. Doesn’t matter if they suck, or if we don’t like them now. Doesn’t matter if we made those when we were feeling good about ourselves, or feeling like shit when we made them. It’s out there for the world now. When it’s out there, it’s not just ours, you know? It’s for them, too.”
“Fine. Just…don’t judge. I’m just starting to like talking to you and I don’t want a reason not to talk to you anymore.”
“I’ll hold judgments to myself.” I top up the flask and we nervously walk back to museum.
Aside from Christina sweet talking the security guard to let me in, the walk back inside was eerily quiet. Whatever words we wanted to say has been replaced with telepathic messages that didn’t reach us. She leads me to the corner of the room where her paintings are hung. She points to three of them. “No verbalized judgments, please” she says with a heavy sigh that smells like my bourbon.
As I’m staring at one particular painting of hers – a black sun over a sea of dark red, birds, or angels seems like, flying around it – I remind myself of what she said. ‘No verbalized judgments, please.’ I’m struggling with telling myself that. I force myself to acquiesce to her request. There’s too much unfelt emotions seeping out of my locked heart. Seeping. Pouring. Blasting outwards.
“God…Christina. This is…” I hold back the tears that wants out. She notices and I’m ashamed. “…this is beautiful. This is unreal. I don’t know anything about art and paintings, but for what it’s worth, I think you belong here. You’re right where you need to be.”
“Thank you, Ryan. Thank you so much. That means so much to me.” She’s the one holding back tears now and she shies away from me. “Can we go outside? I need a cigarette.”
“Sure. Sure.” I could use one myself. I shouldn’t. Bum heart and all, but I could use one.
We wind back outside, surrounded by people we know of and people we don’t know, but it feels like we’re the ones who are here. Like there’s an invisible bubble around us that their piercing thoughts and glares can’t penetrate. She lights up a cigarette and I light mine. “For what it’s worth, too…” she says. “…I do think you belong here. I’ve heard your songs on Soundcloud. I caught you live in Saguijo last month. You’re good. I like your songs.”
“…” I get a text from the one of the organizers saying that I’m up next. “Shit, I’m on in a bit.”
“Well, come on, then. The world is waiting for you.”
“That’s not really helping, Christina. It’s only making me want to do a no-show!”
“Come on! Do I have to hold your hand and lead you backstage like a little kid?”
“Funny.” But I would love for her to do that. Not that I’m a child. “Let’s go. Might as well do this so I can get it over with.”
She does end up leading me down backstage. No hands were held. Her perfume, that I only caught the scent of now, is making every single reservations I had since I agreed to play tonight disappear. I suddenly remember the first time I ever performed on a stage. It was at this no-name bar at a back alley that serves stale beer and smelled like the patrons peed on the walls. It was an open mic night and there were only three of us who signed up so we were allowed to play more songs than required. One of the three who signed up ended up being the woman whom most of my love and breakup songs are about. I fumbled on the first song. Forgot the lyrics to that one, an original, in fact, so I made some lines up on the spot. Never felt happier, safer, before that night, pee smelling walls aside.
“Christina! Where were you? Haven’t seen you all day, hun!” a guy says to her when we reach the backstage. I recognize the guy. He plays lead guitar for one of the bands that’s on the lineup. I was on the same lineup with them at Saguijo last month.
“Around, hun,” she replies and kisses him on the lips. “Met a new friend. Ryan, this is Mikey. Mikey, Ryan.”
“Hi, Ryan! Nice meeting you, man. I’ve seen you around. You’re good!” Mikey says.
“Uhm, thanks. I appreciate it,” I say. I feel like throwing up again. I reach for my flask and take a drink. “Nice meeting you, Mikey. Gotta get ready. Christina…it was nice talking to you.”
“It was nice talking to you too, Ryan. Thank you for the drink and the other thing,” she says to Mikey’s bewilderment. “You’re gonna do great up there. You’re right where you need to be.”
“We’ll see. See you around, Christina.”
The stage hand directs me up the stage. I feel my heart thumping. Same thump I felt seconds before I first performed at that no-name bar. I walk the dark stage without paying attention to the silhouettes of those watching, waiting, for the lights to flood the stage. I set up my DI box hoping that I dialed in the right setting. I plug the instrument cable to my acoustic guitar. I stand right in front of the mic, praying to whoever’s listening that I won’t fuck up. I probably won’t throw up now due to the whiskey since the revelation moments ago sobered me up. Probably.
I tap on the mic to check if it’s live. And then the stage lights turn back on and blind me.